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Avian Influenza (Bird Flu) 9/6/2006
The World Health Organization (WHO) is coordinating the global response to human cases of avian (bird) influenza (flu) and monitoring the threat of an influenza pandemic which could affect the world. Influenza pandemics are caused by new flu viruses that have adapted to humans and starts spreading as easily as a normal flu by coughing and sneezing. Because the virus is new, the human immune system will have no pre-existing immunity which makes it likely that people who contract pandemic influenza will experience more serious disease than that caused by a normal flu. Should this avian flu evolve to a form as contagious as a normal flu, a pandemic could begin. Once a fully contagious virus emerges, its global spread is considered inevitable. WHO believes, given the speed and volume of international air travel today, the virus could spread very rapidly, possibly reaching all continents in less than 3 months. More than 200 confirmed cases of human infection of avian influenza have been reported since 1997.

            Avian influenza is an infection caused by viruses that occur naturally among birds. Wild birds worldwide carry the viruses, which are very contagious among birds and can make some domesticated birds, including chickens, ducks, and turkeys, very sick and kill them. Infected birds shed influenza virus in their saliva, nasal secretions, and feces. During an outbreak of avian flu among poultry, there is a possible risk to people who have contact with infected birds or surfaces that have been contaminated with secretions or excretions from infected birds Currently, it is believed that most cases of avian flu are contracted in this way; however, because all influenza viruses have the ability to change, scientists are concerned that avian virus could soon be able to infect humans and spread easily from one person to another. Therefore, the monitoring for human infection and person-to-person transmission is important.

            Avian flu is usually diagnosed by collecting a swab from the nose or throat during the first few days of illness and not by symptoms alone. The symptoms of avian flu in humans have ranged from typical human influenza-like symptoms (e.g., fever, cough, sore throat, and muscle aches) to eye infections, pneumonia, severe respiratory diseases (such as acute respiratory distress), and other severe and life-threatening complications. More than 50% of those who have contracted the virus have died.

            There currently is no commercially available vaccine to protect humans against this virus and the seasonal flu vaccine does not provide protection against avian flu; however, vaccine development efforts are taking place. While there are prescription medications that may potentially be effective against this flu, the flu viruses become quickly resistant to these drugs and make them ineffective.

            You cannot get avian influenza from properly handled and cooked poultry and eggs. So to stay safe, the advice is the same for protecting against any infection from poultry:

  • Wash your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling raw poultry and eggs.
  • Clean cutting boards and other utensils with soap and hot water to keep raw poultry from contaminating other foods.
  • Use a food thermometer to make sure you cook poultry to a temperature of at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit Consumers may wish to cook poultry to a higher temperature for personal preference.
  • Cook eggs until whites and yolks are firm.

            The virus circulating in Asia, Europe and Africa has not yet entered the United States; however, no one can predict when a pandemic might occur.  The CDC is working closely with domestic and international partners to continually monitor this situation and preparing for the possibility that the virus may begin to spread more easily and widely from person to person.

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